Union, Severstal spar at coke plant

FOLLANSBEE – Officials with Severstal say they “remain available for further discussion” after employees at their Mountain State Carbon operation overwhelmingly rejected a four-year deal this week.

Workers voted 181-7 to reject the proposed contract, the result of more than a year at the bargaining table.

“Hopefully, we’ll go back to negotiations and they will actually negotiate with us,” said Don Hubbard, a member of the United Steelworkers Union bargaining team negotiating on behalf of the workers. “Before, the company basically handed us their version of the contract – we did get them to make a few changes in things, but not many. Basically, it was a take-it-or-leave-it operation.”

Asked for comment, Severstal Public Relations and Communications Director Katya Pruett released a brief statement indicating only that, “We respect the decision of our employees, and we remain available for further discussion.”

Hubbard, though, said it’s apparent by the more than 96 percent margin of defeat that “the workers aren’t happy with” the company’s offer,

“We weren’t asking for the world,” he added. “This is my livelihood, too. We all have to work for a living, this is our livelihood. We just want to be treated fairly.”

He insists the worker demands are basic.

“Really, we’re not going for anything exotic,” he said, pointing out the company had offered hourly workers just two weeks of vacation time while salaried personnel “(have had) their five weeks’ vacation” restored.

“Most people, at the time (former owner) RG Steel filed bankruptcy, had five weeks vacation – we told them we’d accept four weeks for this contract, and we told them we’d take just a small raise every year, 3 percent, which basically just keeps up with inflation,” Hubbard said.

He said they also wanted some semblance of a guaranteed work week, ensuring that if production was interrupted for any length of time the hourly workers would get at least a part of their wages paid by the company.

“They’ve never done that, I want to make that clear,” he said. “It’s never happened here, but the possibility is there and it’s in the back of everybody’s mind. If there’s a possibility that they could do it and they won’t agree not to do it, then there’s a possibility that at some point they might do it.”

Hubbard said the company had offered to maintain wages in years one and two, with modest 2 percent increases in 2016 and 2017.

Hubbard said the vast majority of the roughly 225 hourly workers at the plant are age 60-plus.

(Harris can be contacted at lharris@heraldstaronline.com)